Pay little heed to the final scoreline. The five-point difference made a mockery of the fight tabled by DCU. Even UCC manager Tom Kingston acknowledged as much afterwards.
With 18 minutes remaining in this Fitzgibbon Cup quarter-final, the visitors to the Mardyke found themselves in front 0-14 to 0-13. They had momentum, they had the wind and it also appeared they had UCC’s number.
They also had goal chances. Two of them, in fact. The first fell to Eoghan Conroy and the second to Eoghan McHugh.
UCC corner-back Ian Kenny threw himself in the way of Conroy’s strike, while goalkeeper Jack Barry repelled McHugh’s shot.
Shortly after, DCU full- forward Patrick Curran was off target with a free. Here was 2-1 squandered in the space of a couple of minutes.
UCC, much to their relief, were still only a point behind entering the final quarter.
Mark O’Brien, from a difficult angle, brought the hosts level for the eighth time. Seamus Kennedy, UCC’s outstanding contributor over the hour, subsequently landed a long-range free to nudge them back in front. That Kennedy was the fourth UCC player to be handed free- taking duties tells you plenty about their struggles from the dead-ball. In any event, they moved two clear thanks to sub Michael O’Halloran.
AJ Murphy pulled one back for DCU and they were on course to restore parity when handed a close range free on 57 minutes. Waterford’s Patrick Curran, though, appeared to slip as he struck the sliotar and the target was missed. There was further hard luck for Curran as his sideline cut in the ensuing passage of play came back down off the post.
Kennedy doubled UCC’s advantage two minutes into stoppages and Tom Kingston’s side had one foot in the semis when Mark O’Connor wrote his name onto the scoresheet. Michael Breen’s well-taken goal thereafter, catching DCU off guard as they committed bodies forwards, rubber-stamped their place at the finals weekend in Galway.
From the 41st minute onwards, the winners had outscored their opponents 1-6 to 0-2.
“I am delighted with our performance during this period,” said Kingston.
“We were under the cosh, we were into the breeze and the pitch was heavy. In fairness to our lads, they dug it out. Our lads showed true spirit to get the result. They never gave up. I am hugely proud of them and all credit goes to them.”
The victory brings an end to the university’s three-year absence from the finals weekend.
“We feel the finals weekend is where we should be every year. Maybe, that is cockiness on our part. We are back now and we will do our very best at the weekend.”
They had threatened to run riot during the opening stages with Tom Devine and Alan Cadogan creating goal chances. Both were kept out.
And while Anthony Spillane, the lively Jamie Barron and Kennedy propelled them 0-8 to 0-5 clear, four points from the stick of Patrick Curran, added to fine scores from Liam Fahey and Killian Doyle, had the underdogs level at 0-11 apiece come the break.
They’ll be disappointed with not pushing on when having carved out a winning position.
S Kennedy (0-5, 0-3 frees); A Spillane (0-3); M Breen (1-0); A Cadogan (0-2, 0-1 free); J Barron (0-2, 0-1 free); C O’Leary (0-1 free, 0-1 ’65); M O’Brien, G O’Brien, M O’Connor, M O’Halloran (0-1 each).
P Curran (0-7, 0-6 frees); R McBride (0-3); AJ Murphy (0-2); P O’Dea, L Fahey, P Kelly, K Doyle (0-1 each).
J Barry (Cork); I Kenny (Waterford), C Spillane (Cork), S Roche (Waterford); S Kennedy (Tipperary), C Gleeson (Waterford), R Cahalane (Cork); J Barron (Waterford), C O’Leary (Cork); G O’Brien (Waterford), T Devine (Waterford), M O’Brien (Waterford); A Cadogan (Cork), J O’Flynn (Cork), A Spillane (Cork).
M Breen (Tipperary) for O’Flynn (27 mins); M O’Halloran (Cork) for G O’Brien (41); M O’Connor (Cork) for Cahalane (47).
R Gillen (Westmeath); S McCaw (Dublin), C Delaney (Kilkenny), E O’Donnell (Dublin); T French (Wexford), P Foley (Wexford), A Maddock (Wexford); P O’Dea (Dublin), G Bailey (Wexford); L Fahey (Tipperary), R McBride (Dublin), J Byrne (Kilkenny); E Conroy (Dublin), P Curran (Waterford), AJ Murphy (Dublin).
K Doyle (Westmeath) for McCaw (18); E McHugh (Dublin) for Byrne (40); H O’Connor (Wexford) for Bailey (45); P Kelly (Dublin) for Doyle (60).
A Kelly (Galway).